London Music Works with Joe Stilgoe, Liane Carroll, Shane Hampsheir and Keith Ferreira – A Swinging Big Band Christmas
(Silva Screen Records SILCD1557. CD review by Mark McKergow)
You surely can’t get more Christmassy than this collection of festive favourite songs given a smooth big band treatment and performed by a host of the UK’s most in-demand talent.
Silva Screen Records specialise, as their name suggests, in music for film and TV; their website is a treasure trove for those interested in the likes of collections of Thunderbirds incidental music from the 1960s (as well as more recent incarnations, Gerry Anderson fans). They clearly have first call on many of the country’s top session musicians, and the playing throughout this CD is bullseye perfect.
These evergreen songs have been arranged by Evan Jolly (with a couple by trombone ace Callum Au) for big band, string orchestra and vocals.
Joe Stilgoe leads off with a swinging take on Let It Snow, the horns letting loose in the finest Nelson Riddle tradition, plenty of drum breaks from Elliott Henshaw and buttock-clenching high trumpet notes aplenty. Liane Carroll, her voice and personality well suited to bringing life to such classic material, follows along with a zippy Jingle Bells, perhaps my pick of the album, with insistent backing passages conjuring up the tinkling brassware of the song’s title. Indeed, Carroll’s work on Sleigh Ride, Santa Baby and Silent Night all bring distinctive readings which make the most of the lush musical setting.
Shane Hampsheir gets to tackle White Christmas and It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas, and serves up tuneful renditions with some nice dynamics to ride along with the brass section. ‘Singing Accountant’ Keith Ferreira completes the vocalists, his take on Winter Wonderland leaving space for a sparkling full-band interlude and Frosty The Snowman ushering in a flute solo from Martin Williams. The CD features a number of these shortish solos in the big band tradition, which are of course more in the nature of variations on the theme than full-on Coltanesque explorations.
The CD closes with the entire company gathering around the piano (and the orchestra) with We Wish You A Merry Christmas, supported by Martin Williams’ tenor saxophone. The music throughout is polished, swinging and full of good-natured seasonal tidings. If you’re looking for something to put on at the office party that will offend nobody and bring a bit of genuine jazz to the occasion, get this recording now – it’s downloadable as well as on CD so you can act instantly. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for more cynical and higher jazz-component Christmas music you might try Barbara Dennerlein’s Christmas Soul album which I reviewed here a couple of years ago.